All You Can Eat
Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.
April 9, 2008 7:00 AM
Posted by Nancy Leson
Late Monday afternoon, I was in a very bad mood as I was driving up Lake City Way heading into Lake Forest Park. But that all changed after a restaurant's "Grand Opening" sign caught my eye.
Actually, it was the fancy-pants trailer rig parked next to the roadside joint that caught my eye first, but it was the fact that both the rig and the shack bore the words "gator" that led me to make a U-turn. I wasn't the least bit hungry, but I knew that to drive by this place without stopping to investigate would be a crime.
And that's how I came upon what has to be the best little pit-stop I've found in a coon's age: one that deserves a place on your food-destination map. Because it was here that I met Casper Townsend, a 60-something, gator wrasslin', pork-smokin', frog leg-fryin' Southern Boy and proud owner of Casper's Everglades Supper Shack, where he makes all-too-good on his promise to "Put a Little South in Your Mouth."
"Have you had alligator before?" asked the friendly young lady at the counter as I eyeballed the menu before ordering take-out: a "lunch basket" of deep-fried farm-raised alligator ($9.95 with one side) and a "supper plate" of four meaty pork ribs ($11.95, with two sides) cooked low and slow on the big black Traeger smoker out in the parking lot next to the picnic tables. When I told her that indeed, I had eaten alligator, Casper looked up from behind the counter, and with a glint in his eye asked, "Where'd you eat it?"
I told him I'd eaten it at a (now-defunct) Japanese restaurant, right down the road from his shack. And he looked non-plussed before nodding in agreement, noting that most of the alligator his Floridian gator-farming source sells is flown to Japan, where the Japanese truly appreciate that Southern delicacy. And that's when I made friends with this handsome fireplug of a man, who's got 13 grandkids and as nearly as many scars (the last vestiges of a tattoo, gator claw marks, gunshot wounds). He says he's been catering corporate events out of his big rig for a year or so before plunging into the restaurant business -- a business, he says, he knows "nothing" about.
Clearly he's telling a big fat fib, something I figured out two seconds after another customer walked in the door and got the treatment that's going to make Casper famous -- at least in these parts. "Ever eaten alligator?" the gal asked him, and when that fella said no, Casper fried him up him up a batter-dipped piece, shoved it on a stick and handed it over. The gator-virgin was told to taste it straight, first, before giving it a squirt of spicy "Gator Sauce" found on squeeze-bottles alongside the barbecue sauce on the few tables in this colorful little joint.
You shoulda seen the guy's face when he tasted that lean, juicy meat that, says Casper, "is the lowest cholesterol, highest calcium, highest protein you can eat" and, says me, tastes like chicken, only ten times better. That guy's "mmm-mmm-good"-look bore a striking resemblance to mine after Casper, my new best friend, insisted I taste his tender jumbo fried shrimp (amazing!) and his justly famous Bubba's banana pudding, made from scratch if you don't count the Nilla vanilla wafers (astounding!).
So, get over there ya'll. And when you see me elbowing my way in for some frog legs, or catfish, or more of that fabulous gator or Casper's meaty ribs ("I apologize, if they fall off the bone," he'll tell you) make room for me in there, won't you? You'll find him at 15030 Bothell Way, N.E., Lake Forest Park, (206) 268-0202. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
Posted by daphne gilbertson
10:28 AM, Apr 09, 2008
I always read the Food and Wine emails on Wednesday and enjoy the reviews.
This morning - though - eating Alligator was not something I wanted to read. People that cook that type of meat, or exotic meats, etc.
something is amiss.
Maybe this food is for blue collar workers - but not for women. Eating meat that has a face - really brings it back to you when you think about it.
I certainly would not have a dinner party that was catered to Alligator meat. I am sure no one would come.
Other than that - your food articles and reviews are very good.
Daphne J. Gilbertson
Posted by BigGreenFrank
10:53 AM, Apr 09, 2008
I used to love the BBQ joint that was in this location (not the most recent one, but the one before it). Ray's? Roy's?
Anyways, as a guy who considered doing the whole roast goat at Marrakesh for a birthday dinner last year and is getting a 1/4 head of cattle delivered in a couple of months, I have to say that I completely disagree with Daphne. I think you HAVE to think about your food, where it comes from and what it was before ending up on your plate as a fillet, steak or nugget. And I don't think it's that much different than cow, pig or chicken.
Anyways, this place sounds like fun. I'd like to try "good" alligator. I've had deliciously prepared frogs legs before, but the alligator I've had has always been tough and gristle-y. I'll give Caspar's gator a try.
Also, kicking myself...
I was up that way earlier this week and instead of searching for something interesting, I (**shame**) quickly hit up the Mickey D's drive through)
Posted by Jefe
11:33 AM, Apr 09, 2008
It sounds wonderful, and alligator is good southern eatin'. Lots easier to manage than rattlesnake, which is so full of tiny bones that it's almost like eating goldfish. When I lived in Florida gator was an ordinary meat, what I miss, and haven't found north of the Georgia border is conch fritters. Boy, that is good!
Next time you see Casper, remind him that vanilla wafers for Banana Pudding are super easy to make, it only takes us about 30 minutes to make a week's supply for our Cantina, and we sell a LOT of banana pudding. Plus, none of the preservatives, additives and chemicals that you find in store bought cookies.
Posted by Sheila Moore
11:35 AM, Apr 09, 2008
I think Daphne is amiss!! Obviously she doesn't know what she is talking about and I am offended by the woman and blue collar comment! You should not judge something until you have tried it. I am a woman and love Casper's Gator, ribs, chicken ect. I have also experienced a catered event by Mr. Townsend and the event was top notch. The restaurant is fantastic! The service is down home friendly and the food is excellent. You won't be disappointed if you try this place.
Posted by Anne
12:02 PM, Apr 09, 2008
As a female and a meat eater I will hurry myself down to Caspers. Can "Chicks Dig Gator" T-shirts be too far off in the future?
Posted by J
1:29 PM, Apr 09, 2008
I live virtually across the street, and have driven past it almost day, wondering what Casper's was like. Now I've got a great reason to drop in and try it!
Posted by workerbee
4:22 PM, Apr 09, 2008
I feel sorry for you, Daphne, that you would close yourself off to a culinary experience because of a seemingly random perceived class issue, or the idea that eating (or even reading about eating!) something unusual might just give the fairer sex a case of the vapors. First of all, food is food. Over the ages, poor people food has inevitably become identified as important to the culture and significant in the identity of any society. Coq au vin, paella, the list could go on and on. Also, I agree with Frank that drawing a distinction between "exotic" meats and the standard farm animals doesn't make a lot of sense. Chickens have a face, and so do cows, and like alligators, they are part of the food chain. And when we are gone, it won't bother the worms that we had a face. Lastly, if your friends won't hang out with you because of your meat, it might be time to find new friends.
Posted by Chanin
3:08 PM, Apr 10, 2008
I had the pleasure of eating lunch today at Casper's and have to say two things. Number one, I'll just assume that Daphne was "joking" in making the elitist, sexist and classist comment about "blue collar" food. Any plant or animal on Earth is subject to consumption by local inhabitants. Second, in addressing the more pressing concern for the "liberals" of the Pacific Northwest, let me offer this bit of information regarding conservation and nature.
American alligator, the source of legal alligator products sold in the United States, has been removed from the endangered species list for over 10 years. Not so long ago the sale of alligator leather was banned in response to the alligator's status as an endangered species. But that has changed due to the alligator industry's conscientious effort in preservation programs that protect the wild alligator in its natural habitat. Now when consumers select alligator products, they are making an investment in preserving the American alligator as a viable natural resource.
The increased abundance of American alligator products is not by accident, but is due to the conscientious conservation efforts on the part of the producers and the agencies that monitor the harvest.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services www.fl-seafood.com
I also offer this nutritional information:
Nutritional values for approximately 4 ounces (114 grams) of raw, edible portions
Calories From Fat 20
Total Fat 2 g
Saturated Fat .5 g
Cholesterol 55 mg
Sodium 55 mg
Total Carbohydrates 0 g
Protein 24 g
Now, to the business at hand. I took my 4 year old son with me this afternoon and (given that I am someone with a father who is a Master Chef, Dean of a Internationally renowned Culinary Arts Program (retired) and restaurateur) grew up with "fine" food of all sorts; reflecting many different cultural and ethnic influences. I have to say that the quality of the food and pricing are both very good.
I am a much tougher food critic than Nancy, where it comes to anything claiming to be ~ southern.
This little joint is worth both your drive and your money.
Good southern food and better southern "charm!"
Posted by Gini
5:25 PM, Apr 11, 2008
I grew up with Caspar, only I knew him as "Uncle Butchie", and he's the real deal. I remember when he earned or attained many of the tattoos and scars mentioned in the article. I also remember swamp buggy trips into the Everglades for meals of swamp cabbage and wild hog. I can even still see the hammerhead shark that was stretched from corner to corner in the back of his jeep, something like 9 feet long and fresh out of the Gulf of Mexico. He was always a little bigger than life to a young niece and it seems like he still might be. If you plan to visit his new restaurant, spend a little time getting to know him. He's a good cook, very personable and tells a great story.
Posted by FoodEater
7:49 PM, Apr 11, 2008
"Eating meat that has a face - really brings it back to you when you think about it. "
I certainly hope that Daphne is a vegan. If not, then the hypocricy is too much for me to bear....
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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.